- On Monday, the Hamilton Pistols demoted RW Michael Jennings to their farm team in Oshawa, and called up D Russ Klemmer from Oshawa. This move reverses a transaction made at the end of last week, when the Pistols called up Jennings to fill a spot opened up by Claude Lafayette‘s injury. The return move proved necessary when Oshawa LW Troy Blackwood got hurt, leaving the Drive short a forward. Jennings’ second stint of the season in Hamilton lasted a grand total of one game; he failed to record a point.
- On Wednesday, the New York Night activated RW Ivan “Trainwreck” Trujwirnek from the injured list. Trujwirnek was out for the last two and a half weeks with an upper body injury. His absence was a major blow to the Night’s depth, as he was a key contributor on their second line. Recently acquired Nori Takoyaki had filled in on the second line during Trujwirnek’s absence. To make room for Trujwirnek on the roster, the Night sent RW Sylvester Catarino to their farm team in Utah. The 22-year-old Catarino, a New York native, was a fan favorite, but struggled to put up the numbers to keep himself in the lineup. In 34 games with New York this season, Catarino registered 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) and a +4 rating.
- On Friday, the Pistols activated G Lasse Koskinen from the injured list. It’s not a moment too soon for Hamilton, which has been treading water in the absence of their starting netminder. The 22-year-old Koskinen posted a 17-10-2 record with a 2.30 GAA and a .922 save percentage prior to his injury. With Koskinen returning, the Pistols returned G Hector Orinoco to Oshawa. The 23-year-old Orinoco went 2-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and an .878 save percentage during his stint with Hamilton.
- On Saturday, the Kansas City Smoke demoted RW Adriaen van der Veen to their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and promoted RW Andrew “Lucky” Fortuno from Omaha. This transaction reversed a move the Smoke made right after the All-Star break, when they sent Fortuno down and called van der Veen up. In 18 games with Kansas City, van der Veen put up only 3 points (2 goals, 1 assists) while recording a -14 rating. Fortuno started the season with the Smoke, and was demoted after recording 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) in 24 games.
- On Monday, the Quebec Tigres activated D Ward Jones from the disabled list. Jones had missed more than a month with an upper-body that he suffered before the All-Star break. To make room for Jones on the active roster, the Tigres reassigned D Serge Rimbaud to their farm team in Maine. The 18-year-old Rimbaud appeared in 13 games with Quebec, recording 8 assists and a +1 rating.
- Also on Monday, the Hamilton Pistols placed goaltender Lasse Koskinen on the disabled list. Koskinen suffered an upper-body injury during Sunday’s 7-4 win over New York. He is expected to miss 2 to 3 weeks, a serious blow for a Pistols team that is trying to snatch a playoff spot in the East. To replace Koskinen, the Pistols called up Hector Orinoco from their affiliate in Oshawa. The 23-year-old Orinoco has gone 13-11-0 with a 2.69 GAA and a .902 save percentage with Oshawa this season.
- On Tuesday, the Tigres placed LW Stellan Fisker on the disabled list. Fisker suffered an upper-body injury during the Tigres’ 3-0 win over Hershey. He is expected to miss 3 to 4 weeks. To replace Fisker on the roster, the Tigres called up LW Carl Bleyer from their farm team in Maine. Bleyer has put up 26 points (8 goals, 18 assists) with the Moose on the year.
- Wednesday was the trading deadline. The following trades were consummated at the deadline:
- The New York Night traded RW Mickey Simpson, D Andy Ruger, and a 3rd-round draft pick to the Washington Galaxy for RW Nori Takoyaki. (More details here.) After making the trade, the Night promoted D Craig Werner from their farm team in Utah and signed D Sheldon Harville to a minor-league contract.
- The Galaxy traded Ruger to the Kansas City Smoke in exchange for a 3rd-round pick.
- The Michigan Gray Wolves traded RW Cleo Rodgers, G Gus Parrish, and a 2nd-round pick to the Smoke in exchange for LW Kevin Starkey and D Scott Hexton. (More details here.) After the trade, Kansas City called up Parrish and LW Veikko Sikanen from their CHL affiliate in Omaha, and demoted G Jim Fleetwood to Omaha. They also released G Toby Kemper. Meanwhile, Michigan released D Igor Shovshenkov, demoted F Yann Eberlein to their affiliate in Cleveland, and signed Kemper to a minor-league deal.
- The Saskatchewan Shockers traded C Tanner Brooks to the Dakota Jackalopes in exchange for D Rusty Anderson. (More details here.) After the trade, the Shockers demoted D Valeri Nistrumov to their farm team in Virginia. They also released D Knute Skoeglin and signed F Marvin Cascio to a minor-league deal.
- The Hamilton Pistols traded C Pat Collistone, D Buster Kratz, and a 1st-round pick to the Galaxy in exchange for C Eddie Costello. (More details here.) After the trade, the Pistols called up D Russ Klemmer from their CHL affiliate in Oshawa, and demoted RW Michael Jennings to Oshawa. They also signed D Gresham Sourwine to a minor-league contract. The Galaxy demoted Kratz to their affiliate in Baltimore and promoted C Tucker Barnhill from Baltimore. They also released D Sheldon Harville.
- The Quebec Tigres traded D Kirby Hanlon, C Jacob Cunniff, and a 1st-round pick to the Jackalopes in exchange for D Matt Cherner. (More details here.) After the trade, Dakota released RW Omar Zdurchek; Quebec then signed him to a minor-league deal.
- Finally, the Seattle Sailors traded D Serkan Mratic to the Galaxy for D Stan Gallagher. (More details here.)
- On Saturday, the Jackalopes activated D Rodney Black from the injured list. Black, who was sidelined in only his second SHL game, missed two and a half weeks with an upper-body injury. Since Dakota was one player short of the roster limit, they did not make a corresponding move.
- Also on Saturday, the Hershey Bliss placed LW Lance Sweet on long-term injured reserve. Sweet was carried off the ice on a stretcher after being crunched into the boards late in the second period during Saturday’s 6-3 win over Saskatchewan. Sweet underwent surgery on his right leg, and is expected to be out for the rest of the season. To fill Sweet’s roster spot, Hershey called up D Seth Dowd from their CHL affiliate in Milwaukee. The 33-year-old Dowd, who last played in the SHL in 2016, recorded 27 points with Milwaukee this season.
Through roughly one-quarter of the SHL season, the race in the Eastern Division has defied expectations. As Washington Galaxy RW Jefferson McNeely put it, “If anybody correctly predicted the standings so far, you ought to get to Vegas and start playing the tables, because you must have ESP or something.”
The most shocking storyline by far has been the collapse of the defending champion Hershey Bliss. Widely favored to capture a second straight division title, the Bliss instead fell toward the division basement and have remained there since. Their incredibly slow start hasn’t been the result of injuries (they haven’t suffered any) or key departures from last season (their roster returned largely intact). In fact, the exact cause of their struggles has been a mystery.
After Hershey lost 3-0 in Saskatchewan on Friday to run their losing streak to five, coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber called out his club, saying that the championship had gone to their heads. “When you win a title, that’s a real sugar high,” Barber said. “But after the high comes the crash. We made the mistake of believing our own press. We’ve gone as soft as a bag of Kisses in a hot car on a summer day.” C Justin Valentine, on the other hand, thinks the problem is “mostly bad puck luck, honestly. You look at the underlying numbers, they’re pretty similar to last year. We’re getting the looks and the shots, doing our work on the defensive end, but we’re not getting the breaks.”
One obvious trouble spot for the Bliss is a perennial problem in Chocolate City: goaltending. After Brandon Colt came out of nowhere to win the Finals MVP last season, the hockey world was eager to see if he could repeat the feat. So far, he hasn’t. Colt’s GAA has ballooned nearly a full goal since last season (from 2.77 to 3.68), while his save percentage has plummeted from .909 to .872. Meanwhile Milo Stafford, the ageless backup who defied the skeptics by producing strong numbers year after year, suddenly looks as though he might be washed up at age 36. “It’s a hard time for Milo and me,” said Colt. “We feel like we’re letting the whole team down.”
With Hershey down and out, a couple of surprising teams have jumped up to grab the spotlight. The Hamilton Pistols looked to be a young team on the rise, finishing just below the .500 mark last season. But now it appears they’ve arrived ahead of schedule. After going 3-1-1 on a tough run through the West this week, culminating in a 3-3 tie with mighty Michigan at Cadillac Place, the Pistols ran their record to 11-3-1 and are five points clear in the division.
Last season, Hamilton’s strong top line was dragged down by a lack of depth and experience. GM Marcel LaClaire made some modest but shrewd moves this offseason. He acquired a pair of seasoned veteran leaders in C Henry Constantine and D Craig Werner, and called up a bunch of prospects (wingers Jamie Campbell and Michael Jennings and defensemen Albie Glasco and Buster Kratz) to fix their dismal bottom line. The result has been a high-octane offense that’s scored 62 goals and compiled a +27 rating so far, along with a solid defense in front of Lasse Koskinen, who appears to be the league’s next great netminder.
“Everyone talked about how this wasn’t our year, but we were really going to be something a couple seasons down the road,” said coach Keith Shields. “I told our guys, why the heck shouldn’t it be our year? Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young or too green to compete. And they sure haven’t! What we’re doing night in and night out is an inspiration.”
Slotted in behind high-flying Hamilton is the Quebec Tigres. Ever since the Tigres joined the league in 2016, they’ve been built on a hard-nosed defense and a great goalie in Riki Tiktuunen. The question was whether they could ever develop a functional offense that would allow them to compete. In their third season, they’ve finally done it. Quebec made a splash in free agency, signing ex-Washington winger Walt Camernitz to a 4-year, $20 million deal. Skeptics wondered whether Camernitz was really worth that much money. The early returns have been extremely encouraging; not only is Camernitz producing at a point-a-game pace so far (7 goals, 9 assists), he’s also sparked his linemates, C Mikhail Ilyushin (6 goals, 13 assists) and RW Stephane Mirac (6 goals, 7 assists). They’ve also added a new top pairing of strong two-way defenders, top draft pick Laurie Workman (4 goals, 6 assists) and minor-league callup Richard McKinley (3 goals, 5 assists). They’ve almost doubled their goal output from the same point last season (from 26 to 44). Their newfound offensive prowess has allowed them to post a 9-6-0 record despite Tiktuunen looking a notch less dominant than usual.
“Before, everyone said the only way we could win was to make the game a bloodbath and win a 1-0 rock fight,” said coach Martin Delorme. “But now we show that you can be a tough, hard-working team and also score the goalies. Perhaps our new uniforms have made us more stylish.”
Lurking close behind Hamilton and Quebec are a pair of familiar foes. The Washington Galaxy were expected to take a step back this season after losing Camernitz and D Patrick Banks. But they’ve shown unexpected resilience, surviving an early injury to C J.C. Marais and posting a solid 8-7-0 record. Their success has been fueled by a resurgence of their top line, led by McNeely. The D.C. star leads the league in points (28) and is tied for the lead in goals (13) with Hamilton’s Steven Alexander. “People rushed to bury us, but we’ve got the experience and the bloodline.”
Meanwhile, the New York Night may be best known for coach Nick Foster‘s attempt to start a feud with Hamilton, but they’ve looked decent so far with a 7-7-1 record. They’ve rediscovered the firepower that went missing last season; after hanging a 10-spot on Seattle Friday, they now lead the league with 63 goals. While their defense remains a mess, much-maligned goalie Jesse Clarkson has quietly provided a steady performance (5-4-0, 3.11 GAA, .913 sv%) that has kept them in games.
“There’s a lot of hockey still to be played,” said Foster. “This division’s still wide open. Stay tuned, ’cause anything can happen.”